A minimum of 361 million lb of post-consumer non-bottle rigid plastic was recovered in the U.S. in 2008, up 11 percent from the previous year, according to a report recently released by the American Chemistry Council.
Much of the recycled material is made into new products, such as pallets, crates, composite lumber and gardening items. Engineering applications remain very limited, but there are signs of interest.
"Plastics are too valuable to waste," says Steve Russell, vice president of plastics for the American Chemistry Council. "It's encouraging to see that communities, recyclers and consumers are increasingly recognizing the value of post-consumer non-bottle rigid plastics and working together to provide recycling opportunities."
According to the ACC, more than 60 percent of the material was manufactured into new products in the U.S. or Canada and the remainder was exported, mostly to China.
The material is sold into the marketplace in the following categories, listed by size:
Injection plastic (also called bulky rigid plastics) — primarily polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) — includes carts, crates, buckets, baskets and car bumpers. This group represents about 35 percent of the total.
Electronic housings — primarily high-impact polystyrene (HIPS)-ABS-PC
Commingled bottles and containers
Tubs and lids
Mixed rigid plastics
Other rigid plastics — a "catch all" category defined on a case-by-case basis.
A significant barrier is a lack of clear specifications for different types of baled plastic, leading to a wide variety of quality and content of bales. One of the reasons is the somewhat random nature of the collection and processing infrastructure in the U.S.
Twenty-eight of the 100 largest U.S. cities, mostly on the West Coast, collected non-bottle plastics through curbside programs in 2008. Twelve of those collected all bottles and containers and 16 collected rigid plastics beyond bottles and containers.
Most of the reported computer and electronic scrap comes from special community recycling programs to keep that material out of the general waste stream. That group accounted for 6 percent of the total non-bottle rigid material reported.
Click here to read the ACC's full report.